Bank of America at Johnson Square Savannah GA

The Bank of America at the northeast corner of Johnson Square, Savannah Georgia, is no doubt one of the oldest and most lovely bank buildings in the state. It is a grand and attractive example of neoclassical architecture in the United States.

The building appears Roman, as opposed to Greek, due to it’s use of engaged columns on all but the West side of the building, as well as its use of solid walls. All of the columns, except for the four engaged columns on the East side of the building, are of the Ionic order. These Ionic columns are monolithic as opposed to drummed, which further supports the idea that this building is closer to being Roman than Greek. Furthermore, the steps are small and practical, as the Romans would have done, rather than three proportionally ‘correct’  steps as one would expect to see in classical Greek architecture.

This Bank of America building exhibits the main elements we would expect to see in the Ionic order. The cornice is correct, it has an architrave, a capital, a fluted shaft and a base. The frieze area is there as well. No sculpture is there but instead simply the Bank of America name and logo.

If the columns use entasis, it is very subtle. Entasis is not something that is obvious looking at the building.

The front of the building has four columns evenly spaced across about the middle 3/5ths of the front. The main door stands behind the center between the columns. These four columns are the only ones in this building that appear to actually be supporting any weight, and even in their case, they only support the weight of the roof over the porch. The roof over the main part of the building is supported by the walls rather than columns.

The exterior walls themselves appear to be made up of rectangular stone blocks. It seems likely that the core of the building is made up of some other less expensive material, such as concrete, and that the small stone blocks were then applied to the outside as a facade. We can clearly see the narrow width of the stones at the corners of the building, which supports this theory. Assuming this is indeed how the building was constructed, it would further go along with the Roman approach to building.

The Bank of America at Johnson Square could be compared to Temple of Portunus, a classic example of Roman Ionic architecture, built around 75 BC in Rome, Italy. The fundamental structure is the same. Four columns across the front supporting a porch. Above that, an architrave, then a flat frieze (no sculpture), then the cornice. The Temple of Portunus has a somewhat grander staircase, however. Grand staircases work well for temples, but are less practical for buildings like stores and banks in which people with a variety of physical conditions must go in and out of quickly all day long.

The porch for the Portunus temple is also significantly deeper than that of the Bank of America building. It is supported by several rows of columns rather than just one. The deep porch was a style Romans like at that time, but, as with the staircase, it is somewhat less practical in terms of maximizing usable interior space.

Like Bank of America, the Portunus Temple uses engaged columns on the sides. The columns at Bank of America, however, are slightly less raised above the ground than those of the Portunus Temple. The pediment of the Bank of America building is also slightly more ornate, although neither has relief sculptures.

On the sides there are a total of 14 pilasters, which are very low relief. At the back of the building there are four additional pilasters which, unlike the ones on the sides, do not have the ionic capitals.

The bank also has many windows on all four sides. This would not have been classically Roman, but is something that modern Americans tend to appreciate. The ATM on the North side is also a modern addition.

I’ve always liked this building and frankly don’t have many things I’d change about it. If I had to say, though, I’ve always liked sculpture, so a nice relief sculpture or two could be a good addition. Perhaps something in the center of the pediment. Alternatively, if the Bank wants to keep going with the Roman theme, they could include a veristic bust of President Obama. Or of Bank of America founder Amadeo Giannini, who, coincidently was the child of Italian immigrants.

In terms of more practical modifications, they could include a small shelter over the ATM, though this may decrease the sleekness of the building, and of course would deviate from it’s original design.       

All in all, I think the building works. It is not an exact replica of classical Roman architecture, but just as how the Romans took Greek architecture and made it their own, adapting it to their own needs and aesthetic tastes, so too have we as Americans taken Roman architecture and made it our own. I feel that the architects of this building have struck a good balance between classical rules and modern sensibility. I am quite happy to conduct my banking affairs in this building.    


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Author: Owen Essen

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